Q&A With Mixhell, Playing at White Room This Saturday

Categories: Nightlife
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​Last week, we introduced you to Mixhell, the husband-and-wife DJ / remix / production team of Iggor Calavera and Laima Leyton. (Click here to read that intro, which included a link to the pair's most recent mix). Metal fans will, of course, recognize Calavera's name instantly -- with his brother, Max, as a teenager he helped found Sepultura, one of the most influential metal bands, well, ever. But by 2006, he was bored with the band and with metal in general, and soon was exploring his burgeoning love of electronic music.

These days, as Mixhell, Calavera and Leyton have scored the support of the who's-who of the electro world, playing with everyone from Soulwax to Justice to Diplo and back. But Mixhell has a few key elements separating it from the blog-house pack. First, there's that refreshing burst of feminine energy, which is so often lacking in the jock-ish vibe of relentless bangers. Second, there's a distinct Brazilian influence, a kind of below-the-belt knack for the low end that can only come from south of the equator. And, of course, there's Calavera's drumming expertise. Sure, he played rock and roll for so long -- but who better knows beats than an actual drummer?

And Calavera hasn't left his kit behind, either. While Mixhell's live appearances started as more or less straightforward DJ sets, these days they've morphed into a different, far more interactive beast. While Leyton mans the decks, synths, and the occasional microphone, Calavera plays live along with the set -- smack in the middle of the crowd. Sure, dancing, flying limbs might lead to flying cymbals, but that's all part of the balls-to-the-wall energy he's dragged in from the Sepultura years.

Catch the mayhem for yourself this Saturday at White Room. In advance of the gig, Crossfade chatted with Calavera and Layton about Mixhell's origins and future. Read the full Q&A, and get full show details, after the jump. 
Mixhell. Saturday, November 7. White Room, 1306 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors open at 10 p.m., tickets cost $10. Ages 21+ with ID. 305-995-5050; whiteroomshows.com


New Times: You all got married this past February, but how long ago did you actually meet?
 
Laima: We met like five years ago, in a club. We had a friend in common DJing, a guy from a punk rock band from Brazil, a friend of Iggor's, actually.
 
And at what point did you all start working on music together?
 
Laima: Well, Iggor used to DJ because he was from Sepultura. There was this big thing going on in Brazil where they had celebrity DJs everywhere. So they invited him to DJ at a lot of parties, and after a while, I started going with him and just suggesting this or that, until the point where we said, "Okay, this is fun to DJ together, let's do it together." Then we started producing our own remixes, our own edits of the music we wanted to play, and then our own tracks.
 
Did you DJ on your own before Mixhell?
 
Laima: No. I worked with art; I used to work at the Museum of Modern Art in Sao Paolo. But my sister was a DJ, and she had the whole setup at home. I used to mess around with her stuff, but not DJing properly alone.
 
So when you started Mixhell, were you already into electronic music much, or were you into rock previously, or both?
 
Laima: I was more into electronic, but I was a metal and rock fan as well, so I was more like a music lover in general. When we started were listening to things that were not only electronic, but more things like crossovers in-between electro and rock, like LCD Soundsystem and Soulwax. So those were the main influences when Mixhell began.
 
Iggor: I was always into, not only hip-hop, but also electronic beats and electronic music, things like Kraftwerk, back in the day. For me, it was like metal at the time, and rock in general, was very voring, so I was trying to do something different. And I found in electronic music there was a lot more going on, as far as people experimenting with sounds and beats.
 
The real beginning of Mixhell, like Laima said, was a lot of digging stuff that was crossover between rock and electronic. That's how we started, listening to those people and hanging out with them through friends and being very influenced by them.
 
At what point did you start making your own tracks?
 
Laima: At first, we started editing a lot of stuff we were playing. We didn't feel like playing the original tracks all the way, and we started chopping stuff so we could DJ them live, before we started making our tracks. Then some people started asking us, after listening to the edits, asking us to remix them, and that's how we started to get deep into producing.
 
Iggor: Remixing is fun, because it's very special when you get to go into someone's music, and you can create something new out of it. It's quite a challenge, sometimes, just plain fun, messing with it in more kind of a destructive way, or just trying new things. I think remixing is one of the most fun things you do today in music. I have a blast when we get asked to do remixes, and we get across crazy parts and things we can shape into something else with our own flavor.
 
Iggor, what made you finally quit Sepultura? Was it your increasing interest in dance music?
 
Iggor: It was completely coincidental. I quit around the same time [2006] my last son, Antonio, was born, so I took a whole year off of the band and everything. That's when I started getting asked to do some DJ gig, when I was off, and the whole thing happened like that. I didn't quit the band to do Mixhell.
 
What kind of stuff were you playing at those very first DJ gigs?


Iggor: It was very diverse: a lot of Mexican and Central American hip-hop, mixed with some New Wave.... It was very schizophrenic at the time.
 
It seems like you have a pretty strong interest in hip-hop; you've done collaborations with hip-hop artists. So how did you end up with Mixhell, which is more like electro-house, than a hip-hop project?
 
Iggor: I don't know; in my view, hip-hop also got really boring. I don't really listen to a lot of new hip-hop artists today. I don't really find it very interesting. I think the last thing I heard that I really liked was this guy called the Bug, from the U.K., which is like grime, almost like dubstep, with hip-hop on it. That was really amazing.
 
It seems, also, like you started meeting the big players in electro-house really early, people like Busy P and Diplo. How did you make friends with them?
 
Iggor: It's funny, because it's a lot to do with my past. Most of those people were rock and metal kids.
 
Laima: They were Igor's fans!
 
Iggor: When we started meeting them, it was a mutual fan thing. Like James Murphy, for me, is one of the most amazing producers -- so to find out that he was a fan of what I was doing before was amazing. It's like we were mutual groupies!
 
Who would you say was Mixhell's biggest champion early on?
 
Iggor: Definitely Soulwax. They're our godfathers, we say. They took us through Europe, and set us up with all kinds of gigs. They were the first ones to believe in us.
 
Laima: They're still our family.
 
How would you describe your sound as Mixhell? It seems to fit with a lot of the electro-house stuff that's been going on, but especially in a song like "Boom Da" there seems to be a strong Brazilian influence. How intentional is that?
 
Iggor: Yeah, there is some Brazilian influence. I don't like when it then becomes like, completely Brazilian music, like with Sepultura. With Mixhell, we try to get Brazilian influences -- you can hear the elements there -- but it's more diverse than just Brazilian music. There are a lot of influences when we do a track. So the challenge is to describe what we do; when people ask me, it's like, I don't know. That's kind of the beauty of what we do, is not having a label.
 
With so many different influences going, how do you get started making an actual track?
 
Iggor: Each track is a diff story. Sometimes it's a beat I create, or a bassline, or a synth line that Laima comes up with. It can be just me messing around with percussion, trying some weird sounds. There's not like, a formula. 

Laima: Of course, the first thing we end up recording usually are the beats.

What's the process for you when you work with a vocalist? How collaborative is it? I'll ask specifically again about "Boom Da," because it's your newest track.

Laima: The vocals on there are from a guy from baltimore, called Oh Snap, and Jen Lasher. Occasionally, we figure out someone to do the vocals, because we feel like we need vocals. Sometimes I do some stuff, or we ask a friend to do some stuff, or we ask our kids, randomly. We have an upcoming track with Marina from Bonde do Role, too, so it's all also very diverse. We first do the track and see how someone could sing on top of it, and then we choose the person.
 
Would you say metal influences this project at all?
 
Iggor: Yeah, I think it does. I mean, we don't do metal, but it's definitely influenced by it in the way I play the drums, or the way I choose some of the beats and the synth lines. They have some kind of metal influence, but it's not in your face.
 
What's the reaction been like from the metal community?
 
Iggor: I think it's been really good, because the people who come to see it are open minded enough already to be in a club, so they're halfway. The people who don't like it just talk shit in forums and stuff, so to me, that doesn't matter. Anyone can be super macho behind a computer and talk shit about anything. The people I meet face to face, it's very positive. That's what matters to me.
 
So what can someone expect from your live show? You're playing drums live now, right?
 
Iggor: It's crazy. With Mixhell, we always had this idea of building something that can change into different formats all the time. I started out only using the MPC live, and Laima suggested we try to do some live drums. Now, it's like becoming this wholly different show, and also Laima does some synths and vocals live. There are many different formats, we never know what's going to happen. Some nights are more like a DH set, and some are more live -- it really depends on the vibe. I would say 99 percent of our shows, now we definitely have the drums, and for us, it's fun.
 
So how do you know if you're going to play more, or what? How much of your set is planned out in advance?
 
Iggor: We know the tracks we stripped down; we took off some of the bass and some of the drums so I can play on top of it. But we don't have a set we follow. We just feel it, and go with what's happening on the night. So each show is different from the others.
 
And you actually play in the crowd sometimes, right?

Iggor: Yeah, last night was like that, it was a lot of fun. Sometimes you get kids really close to the drums, but I think last night, kids were a little scared, because the drums were so loud. It took them like 10 or 15 minutes to start getting close. It was like I had this invisible barrier, and I was laughing.

Do you prefer playing in that kind of situation over playing on huge stages, like you did with Sepultura?

Iggor: I think both are really cool, because when you're on stage, you do the same thing, connect with people. But you have to make people react with just your sounds. I think both are fun.
 
So after the tour, do you plan to write a full studio album, or will you just continue releasing material track by track?
 
Iggor: It's funny, because the business is so crazy right now, we could continue doing without even releasing any new material. People really want to see Mixhell as a live experience, but at the same time, we really feel like writing some music. So I think what's more likely to happen is that we'll release like two EPs, like four original songs and a bunch of remixes, instead of a full-length album. Of course, that plan can change. But we definitely will take a break after we come back from Christmas, and lock ourselves in the studio.

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